Saturday, August 11, 2018

August 11, 1985 -- Old Town's Cobbler's Square Praised

August 11, 1985 –Paul Gapp, the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, pens a column in praise of the Cobbler Square development in Old Town in which “a conglomeration of some 30 old interconnected factory and warehouse structures” have been converted into 297 rental apartments, an exercise Gapp calls “one of the most extraordinary new housing complexes in Chicago.” [Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1985]  The buildings are in the area bounded by Wells and Schiller Streets and Evergreen and North Park Avenues with the oldest buildings occupied originally by the Western Wheel Works, a bicycle manufacturer. Dr. William Scholl rented space in the bicycle factory and while he “parlayed a line of shoes and foot care products into a corporation grossing more than $250 million a year … sporadically built a hodgepodge of additions to it.”  The company Scholl founded left Chicago for Tennessee in 1981 and developer Richard Perlman commissioned architect Kenneth A. Schroeder to create a residential community out of the three- and five-story buildings that remained. Gapp writes of the plan, “The new fa├žade facing Wells Street is a crisp and clean essay in brick and limestone, evocative of both Gold Coast images a few blocks to the east and the storefronts of Wells Street itself.”  The plan includes three courtyards, each larger than the one before it that “planted with locusts, are oases that can almost make you forget you’re in the center of the city – and in a somewhat fringy neighborhood, to boot.” The plan took the 30 original buildings that were part of the complex and reduced them to five, cleverly combining many of them in a scheme that is “the kind of place where youngish or young-thinking men and women pay a lot of attention to what they call their lifestyles and … don’t mind climbing tiny staircases to reach the sleeping platforms supporting their futons.”  In summing up the new community, Gapp views Cobbler Square as an indication that the former tawdry area around Wells Street is, itself, beginning to make its way back to respectability with “Cobbler Square … among the best additions to the neighborhood in recent years – a vehicle of gentrification, actually … obviously an architectural success with considerable fringe benefits.”  

August 11, 1977 – The Chicago Plan Commission votes down a proposed four billion-dollar development proposed for land in the south Loop along the east side of the Chicago River.  The project, a Bertrand Goldberg design for six 72-story towers and 6,000 apartments, is proposed for a 45-acre site bounded by Harrison Street, Roosevelt Road, the Chicago River and Wells Street.  Lewis J. Hill, the city commissioner of development and planning, asserts that city guidelines recommend 1,750 units on the site, and the Goldberg plan far exceeds those guidelines.  “In short,” Hill says, “the River City plan proposes development that is three to five times more intense than that recommended in the guidelines.”  [Chicago Tribune, August 12, 1977] Hill also says that the huge project would also stand in the way of the proposed Franklin Street Connector that is planned to link the Dan Ryan Expressway with Wacker Drive.  Forty years later River Line, a project involving ten high-rise residential buildings lining the banks of the river, is underway, with Perkins and Will responsible for siting the massive project to the north of the current River City, a 1986 community of about 440 units, the scaled-down design that eventually came out of Bertrand Goldberg’s 1970’s proposal.

August 11, 1966 – The Beatles arrive in Chicago in the middle of a swirling controversy, and John Lennon, in a press conference at the Astor Towers Hotel, apologizes for his part in creating the furor that developed after his casual remark that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.  “I wasn’t saying whatever they say I was saying,” says Lennon, described by the Tribune as a “Shaggy-haired Liverpool performer.”  [Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1966] “I‘m sorry I said it really.  I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing.  I apologize if that will make you happy.  I still don’t know quite what I’ve done.  I’ve tried to tell you what I did do but if you want me to apologize, if that will make you happy, then OK, I’m sorry.”  For a personal essay on the event and how it has stayed with me for fifty years, you may want to look up this blog entry from 2009.  Information concerning Astor Towers, where the press conference took place, may be found here.

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